What Can RIAs Expect from a System Conversion? – Part 1

By Joan Walker, Managing Director, UNAPEN on Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Your wealth management firm has just spent months looking into new systems, narrowing the field of options, negotiating terms and agreements and finally you are at the end of the process. You have chosen a new system! Congratulations, you’re done, you can leave it in the vendor’s hands to bring in the new system and all will be right with the world. WRONG – this is only the beginning, let’s see why.

Viewpoints Vary Drastically

We just went through an exercise where our sales staff documented the product life cycle of a CRM sale, starting at the first touch of an RIA prospect and ending with the new client going live. Their process had ten steps that occurred after the signing of the contract. When our analysts (who work with new clients to get new systems up and running) got hold of list, the number of steps almost tripled with a total of twenty eight steps. Two line items that the sales people listed – data conversion and implementation –were expanded to eighteen in the final version. There are several lessons to be learned here. The first is: System Conversions are not simple linear efforts.

The Definition of Conversion

Conversion – the act or process of changing from one form, state etc. to another.   It also means the act or process of changing from one religion, belief, political party etc. to another. Clearly the first definition applies to system conversions however the second also applies. Not only is your RIA firm moving data from one system to another, your firm is taking a leap of faith that the new system (portfolio accounting, trading, CRM, billing, etc.) will be better, more efficient and more effective at helping you provide the best service for your wealth management clients.

The Inevitable Naysayers

With that leap of faith come the doubters and naysayers. “The old system has worked for us for twenty years – why do we need to change now?” “It takes me three steps where it was only two in the old system.” “The new system is so confusing.” Like democracies, system conversions in wealth management firms are messy. There is old data that has been jerry-rigged to work in the old system. There are “work-arounds” in the old system that maybe one or two people know about or understand. This only feeds into the doubts.

In my experience there are three ways to silence the doubters and naysayers:

  1. Stay with the old system.

That brings to mind some questions:

  • Why are you converting to begin with?

  • Have the pain points and benefits of the current system been acknowledged and documented?

  • Has analysis been done to document the pain points and benefits of the new system?

  • Has this been shared with the entire firm?

If you don’t have a good answer for the first question and/or answered no to any of the questions that followed, then you will not have a smooth conversion and you may want to think about staying with the old system. Probably not the best choice.  If you have a good answer as to why your firm is converting and you answered yes to other questions, then there is a second way to silence the doubters and naysayers.

  1. Make the new system look and feel like the old system.

This happens more than you would think. Firms try to merge the old with the new to get the best of both worlds. It sounds like a great idea – right? Many times the answer is No! This type of replication comes when you don’t have an experienced team within the firm that understands your needs or you don’t have an experience team at the vendor providing the new system.  You can try to replicate old functionality but there is a reason why the new system is designed the way it is. Again, not a good choice.  This means that people and processes will have to change. As I typed the last sentence, I heard crowds of employees start their protest!  The last way and best way to silence the doubters and the naysayers?

  1. Keep them involved throughout the process.

They or their requirements need to be part of the vetting process for, and conversion to, the new system. Many times these employees are an integral part of their department. It is often challenging for them to find extra time to be involved in yet another project. However, it is critical that they participate either directly or through a knowledgeable and empowered representative.
David Gemma is UNAPEN's CMO and Head of New Business Development and Ken Rode is the Director of IT.  UNAPEN, Inc. is a nationally recognized consulting and software development firm that provides software and technical consulting to the financial services industry. Visit his website at http://unapen.com or follow on twitter @UNAPEN.  You can email David at: David.gemma@unapen.com  


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